Climate change should not be included in the national curriculum, the government adviser in charge of overhauling the school syllabus in England has said.
Tim Oates, whose wide-ranging review of the curriculum for five- to 16-year-olds will be published later this year, said it should be up to schools to decide whether – and how – to teach climate change, and other topics about the effect scientific processes have on our lives.
In an interview with the Guardian, Oates called for the national curriculum “to get back to the science in science”. “We have believed that we need to keep the national curriculum up to date with topical issues, but oxidation and gravity don’t date,” he said. “We are not taking it back 100 years; we are taking it back to the core stuff. The curriculum has become narrowly instrumentalist.”
His stance marks a turning point in the development of the national curriculum. Oates’ intention is to substantially reduce the national curriculum. Under the previous government, the curriculum expanded to nearly 500 pages. His remarks also show he wants to reverse a shift in emphasis, made under the Labour government, under which teachers were encouraged to place great importance on scientific “issues” and not just scientific knowledge.
Climate change has featured in the national curriculum since 1995. In 2007, the topics “cultural understanding of science” and “applications and implications of science” were added to the curriculum for 11- to 14-year-olds.
But Bob Ward, policy and communications director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics, warned that Oates’ ideas might not be in pupils’ best interests and could make science less interesting for children.
“An emphasis on climate change in the curriculum connects the core scientific concepts to topical issues,” he said. “Certain politicians feel that they don’t like the concept of climate change. I hope this isn’t a sign of a political agenda being exercised.”
He said leaving climate change out of the national curriculum might encourage a teacher who was a climate change sceptic to abandon teaching the subject to their pupils. “This would not be in the best interests of pupils. It would be like a creationist teacher not teaching about evolution. Climate change is about science. If you remove the context of scientific concepts, you make it less interesting to children.”
THE SCHOOLS SHOULD FOCUS ON TEACHING STUDENTS HOW TO THINK NOT WHAT TO THINK